Unless your trip was a total disaster, the only downside of a vacation is coming back from it. While having time off is healthy, getting back to normal life is often a wake-up call that most of us don't appreciate. A study in 2010 suggested that even though people might be a lot happier on their actual vacation, their happiness tapers off as soon as they get home.
So why does coming home ruin our good vibe? Shannon Thomas, LCSW, says that part of the reason is because taking time away can make us realize that there are parts of our lives we'd like to change.
"We often don't notice certain negative aspects of our lives while we are in the middle of it, but taking a step back during a vacation brings more clarity to things we may need to change in our lives and coming home is often a splash of cold reality," Thomas says.
Another culprit of post-vacay blues could be that the actual vacation wasn't as idyllic as you'd hoped. Maybe you and your significant other got into a fight, or you and your friend realized that you hate traveling together.
"Relationship issues can be magnified while on a trip and it can be depressing to reach the realization that there may be problems in the couplehood, family, or friendship that need to be addressed," Thomas says.
But, for a lot of people, the biggest post-vacay problem is the thing that makes a vacation so great in the first place: unplugging. Yes, a main benefit of vacation is that you get to unplug from your email inbox and whatever else has you stressed out, and taking a break from these things can be healthy. But, Thomas says, quitting your inbox cold turkey could make life more stressful when you come back. The key to avoid crashing into stress (and a mountain of email) is to gradually transition back into real life.
Taking a step back during a vacation brings more clarity to things we may need to change in our lives.
Shannon Thomas, LCSW
"Towards the end of a vacation, it is important to start thinking ahead of what is on the calendar when we return or what activities are we looking forward to once home," Thomas says.
That may sound like the last thing you want to do on your last day at the beach, but it might make it a little easier to get back into the swing of things. Or, alternatively, you can budget out a day to chill out before you have to get back to work — a vacation from your vacation, if you will. Use that extra day to unpack and run some errands that'll make life easier, like stocking up your fridge, doing laundry, or even clearing the spam out of your inbox so that catching up on your emails is less daunting.
And, once you're officially back in your normal life, try not to overload yourself.
"Getting back to a normal routine takes a few days, and we help ourselves by trying to keep our schedule as simple as possible," Thomas says.
In other words, it's normal for your heart and mind to still be at the beach even if your body is back in the office (especially if you're dealing with jet lag). But if your post-vacation slump doesn't fade after a few days, it might be time to reexamine what's going on in your life.
"If the blues last more than a week or two, our subconscious may be speaking up that things in our life might need attention," Thomas says. "Meeting with a therapist or experienced life coach can help sort through the life discontent that came up after a time of rest and fun while on vacation."